"The difference between golf and government is that in golf you can’t improve your lie” is a joke that plays on the meanings of “lie” ("to not tell the truth” or “to place a golf ball"). Golfers can “improve their lie” in special cases, such as under winter rules.
The line has been usually credited to George Deukmejian (California governor, 1983–1991) since at least 1992. However, an earlier form of the joke has been in print since at least 1964, attributed to James D. Sterling.
16 February 1964, Omaha (NE) World-Herald, pg. 10F, col. 2:
What’s the difference between golf and political oratory?
In golf, you can’t improve your lie.
-- J. D. Sterling in Quote.
The Reader’s Digest
The difference between golf and political oratory is that in golf you can’t improve your lie. (James D. Sterling in The Atlantic Log).
23 October 1976, Chicago (IL) Tribune, pg. N15:
The difference between golf and politics: In golf you can’t improve your lie.
Amazing But True Golf Facts
By Bruce M Nash, Allan Zullo and Larry Dorman
Kansas City, MO: Andrews and McMeel
“The difference between golf and government is that in golf you can’t improve your lie.” — GEORGE DEUKMEJIAN, Former California governor
Tucson (AZ) Citizen
A conversation with Senator Mark Udall
by Andy Morales on Nov. 15, 2011, under Sports
“There are a lot of great analogies in golf like the ‘longest distance on a golf course is between your ears’ and the ‘difference in golf and government is that in golf you can’t improve your lie.’”
New York City • Government/Law/Politics • (1) Comments • Friday, December 09, 2011 • Permalink
GOLF IS MY LIFE IN LOVE WITH WITH THIS GAME. I ALWAYS THINK IT TO BE THE BEST RELAXING AND ROYALE GAME IN THE WORLD.